Wednesday, December 08, 2004


Treasury's Ratchet

Is the US Treasury Dept. actively suppressing Cuban and Iranian dissidents, just to name a few? It looks that way.

Here's how the Treasury Dept. see themselves:

The mission of the Department of the Treasury is to promote the conditions for prosperity and stability in the United States and encourage prosperity and stability in the rest of the world.

This mission statement highlights Treasury’s role as the steward of U.S. economic and financial systems...
Among their duties is to ensure that US companies don't do business with the enemy; for example, by selling arms to Kim Jong Il.

But does proofreading or translating the work of a dissident - Solzhenitsyn, from the past, comes to mind - constitute trading with the enemy? In the OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control, a branch of Treasury), it apparently does:
Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, has filed suit against the U.S. Treasury Department in federal court in New York because regulations of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") prohibit the publication of a book she wants to write about her life and her work for readers in the United States. Ms. Ebadi and The Strothman Agency, LLC, a literary agency that wants to work with her, filed the suit which will be joined to a legal challenge mounted by publishers and authors last month.

Ms. Ebadi's predicament provides a perfect illustration of the harm the OFAC regulations cause. Ms. Ebadi has been imprisoned for her human rights work in Iran. She could not publish the book she wants to write in Iran, but the OFAC regulations also prevent anyone from publishing it in the United States. As long as the regulations stand, the book will not come into being.
Ebadi's is not an isolated case. And if Treasury has good reasons for its actions in these regards, it appears to be keeping them under wraps.

Anyone know if there's more to this story, or is Treasury as lumbering and hurtful a bureaucracy as it seems in this case?

UPDATE: Now that he's been asked to stay on as Treasury Secretary, perhaps John Snow can explain why Treasury is helping to suppress dissidents in "enemy" countries.

UPDATE: Could these same OFAC rules also be applied to blogs? If a US blogger were to edit or translate (or link to?) an Iranian dissident's site, does that constitute a service in the eyes of OFAC, and could it therefore be subject to prosecution? What about allowing a dissdent to guest-blog on one's own site? The OFAC is setting some very worrisome precedents here, and perhaps it would be a good idea for bloggers to deal with them now, before they grow.

UPDATE: One week later, there is some very good news to report.